ANTALYA – The Afghan government’s chief peace envoy expressed fears on Friday that the Taliban will have no interest in a political settlement with the U.S.-supported administration in Kabul after the scheduled departure of American and NATO forces.
Abdullah Abdullah, head of Afghanistan’s National Reconciliation Council, said there were signs that the Taliban were seeking military advances ahead of the Sept. 11 troop withdrawal. He warned however that, if so, the extremist Islamic movement was making a “big miscalculation.”
In an interview with The Associated Press, Abdullah also said Afghanistan’s neighbors must refrain from interfering and instead seek cooperation with Kabul for the country's long-term stability.
”(Withdrawal) will have an impact on the negotiation with the Taliban,” Abdullah said. “(They) may find themselves further emboldened and they may think — some of them at least — that with the withdrawal, they can take advantage of the situation militarily.”
He added however that “it will be a big miscalculation ... should they think that they can win militarily. There are no winners through the continuation of the war.”
Abdullah said there are signs that the Taliban are trying to take over provincial districts in a bid to take “advantage of that situation.”
“But it’s something that defies the lessons of history,” he said. “Should this be the case, it will mean that (the) Taliban are opting for a military solution, which is not a solution to begin with, and it will not happen the way that they envisaged.”
By Sept. 11 at the latest, around 2,300-3,500 remaining U.S. troops and roughly 7,000 allied NATO forces are scheduled to leave Afghanistan, ending nearly 20 years of military engagement. There are concerns that the Afghan government and its security forces may be ill-prepared for the withdrawal and that the country may descend into chaos.
The Taliban ruled Afghanistan until ousted by a U.S.-led coalition after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in America. In recent weeks Taliban fighters have overrun several districts in south and northern Afghanistan, convincing government security forces to surrender and seizing their weapons and military vehicles. The heaviest fighting has been in the northern Faryab province and in southern Helmand.
Asked about possible interference from neighbors after U.S. and NATO troops have left, Abdullah said regional countries have declared that they have an interest in a stable Afghanistan and that they should “put those words into deeds.”
“There were some countries which had concerns about the presence of NATO troops in Afghanistan, including the Islamic Republic of Iran," he said. “Now, NATO troops are not going to be there.”
He was speaking on the sidelines of an international forum in Antalya, on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, where he held separate meetings with the foreign ministers of Turkey, Iran, Qatar and Pakistan.
"I don’t think that that they would like to see instability in Afghanistan or (a) return to the old days because we have too much (of a) common interest in the neighborhood as a whole,” Abdullah said.
In a further warning to neighbors, Abdullah said millions of refugees had returned to Afghanistan as the country stabilized and added: “Should the situation reverse, the consequences of this will also be reversed.”
The peace negotiator said talks between the government and the Taliban, that were scheduled to take place in Turkey before the September troop withdrawal, were not “completely off the table.”
“Turkey’s position is that when both sides ... are ready for serious negotiations, we are ready to host it,” he said, adding that the Taliban had at times “put conditions” to participate in the talks or engaged in delaying tactics.